No, I will never “acknowledge my fit privilege”

Where do I even begin?

I will start by saying that I have long since lost interest in trying to convince people who aren’t interested of why they should want to train, or why they could be successful if they tried. There are things I’ve been quite passionate about in my past that I’ve moved on from, and I get irritated when people try to pressure me into “getting back into it and giving it one more try”. I can only imagine how much more irritating it would be to be trying to live your life and pursue your interests and mind your own business, and to keep hearing “ok but you’re a fat person and you should try not being fat anymore, you could not be fat if you really tried” as if nothing else you do counts if you don’t and as if it’s any of anyone’s concern in the first place.

I will continue by reminding you that I have written countless blog and social media posts to the tune of “quit acting like training makes you better than everyone else. You took an interest in something, gave it a try, found that you liked it, and now here you are” especially in response to those obnoxious “what’s your excuse?” type posts that go viral for all the wrong reasons every once in a while. What’s their excuse? Why do they need an excuse for not pursuing something they don’t have an interest in? Why do they owe you a justification or explanation? What’s your excuse for not knowing how to rebuild an engine or play classical piano?

No one is asking “what’s your excuse for not knowing how to play an instrument?”, but on the other hand no one is telling the serious musical enthusiast who learned the theory and practiced the technique for hours every day to “acknowledge their musical privilege” even though others might not have been so fortunate as to have access to a good teacher or to afford a decent instrument. Because to do so would be ridiculous.

I think it is probably important that people in the fitness industry acknowledge that weight stigma is a thing that people experience and probably only the tip of the iceberg. This entry does not deny or mitigate the fact that weight stigma exists.

Fit Privilege though? Really?

The way I’m reading into this… it’s as if the suggestion is that the only reason anyone is in “fit” shape is because that was always the most likely thing for them, and that they’ve had an easy time of it all along, and if anything should probably feel a little embarrassed and a little bit guilty about how much harder other people have got it.

Really though? That’s a load of garbage.

People get into fitness for different reasons. Perhaps they got started after a health scare and on doctors orders. Perhaps they just decided one day “I don’t suppose I’ll be very good at it or very successful at it, but it’ll be nice to have something to do after work other than just veg out in front of the tv”. Often people have become passionate about fitness because it was something that got them through a dark chapter of their life when it seemed like nothing else was going right for them. Perhaps unemployed, bereaved, following a difficult relationship breakdown, while struggling with poor mental health, or any combination of these and other issues.

If you’re someone who has used an interest in fitness as a coping mechanism when you were unemployed, unloved, trying not to give in to depression and despair, and trying to channel your energy into and focus upon some positive outlet… to be informed that “you have fit privilege” is incredibly insulting and offensive.

“Acknowledge your privilege?” How about acknowledge that you could have just as easily turned to self destructive behaviours, could have taken your issues out on others in an abusive or manipulative manner, and quite possibly might not have overcome those hardships at all?

I would suggest this applies to many, many people. And even to those that it doesn’t apply to, how is it in any way helpful to insist that they “acknowledge their privilege” as if they are selfish and their interest and success in pursuing their fitness goals is something they are undeserving of?

That’s how it comes across to me anyway.

Now, the issue here isn’t that everyone has to be impressed by or give credit to people for pursuing their fitness goals. I feel like most fitness enthusiasts aren’t actually asking for that. I feel like most people just want to be left in peace to pursue their interests without the uninvited negative opinions of others trying to rain on their parade, and that applies to people of different sizes with different interests as well. Regardless of your shape, size, education, economic status, whatever… there are certain people out there whether strangers, on social media, or people you are acquainted with or related to, who just do not want to see you happy on your own terms and who want to control how you see yourself and how you feel about yourself. Anyone who has achieved any level of success in anything or any level of happiness in general has had to deal with and over come this.

That said, this notion that anyone who is in “fit” shape as an adult must have been someone who excelled at and was encouraged in sports from a young age, who never experienced difficulty around “healthy eating”, never had a medical or mental illness that would preclude them from being successful… I can assure you I’m the opposite of all of those things.

Why this really matters though is not about me or about other fitness enthusiasts being given credit for trying their best and overcoming adversity in their lives. It is actually about the people who might like to take an interest in training but lack the confidence or the belief in themselves to do so.

Splitting people into groups of “people who were always going to end up in fit shape because it’s easy for them” and “people who were never likely to end up in fit shape no matter what” only discourages those who are interested and could benefit from encouragement. It disempowers those who need to be empowered. It will be one more young woman who started out thinking she wanted to lose 5kg who by the time she comes to me is more like 30kg overweight with a binge eating disorder because she identified as a “fat person” rather than a “fit person” and so believed she would need to restrict her intake to a half or a quarter of what would be minimal for someone else with the same goals. Or something like that.

I probably didn’t even say half of what I was thinking on this topic but I suppose 1150 words is plenty.

Should you take nutrition advice from a body builder?

For the sake of hopefully avoiding controversy, I’m going to begin with the conclusion. As with many questions, the actual answer is “maybe, it depends”. People tend to prefer black & white, yes & no, good or bad, blanket statement type answers… *shrug* sorrynotsorry if you’re disappointed.

The quality of advice should really be assessed on the basis of the quality of the advice, rather than the description of the person it comes from. Any specific individual trainer, bodybuilder, nutritionist, dietitian, or other person may give good advice or bad advice. We may observe that generally speaking, one profession is more or less likely to give solid, factual, reasonable and helpful advice than another… regardless, advice is good or bad based on how solid, factual, reasonable and helpful it is, not based on who it comes from.

Diplomatic enough for you? Everyone still happy so far? No one’s feelings hurt? Good. Let’s continue.

Now then. Let’s agree that it makes sense to assume we’re talking about people with a weight loss &/or fat loss goal. Who knows more about how to maintain lean mass and shed fat than a bodybuilder? Few if any.

Or so it would seem. Someone may have done a body building contest and achieved a lean condition under the instruction of their coach. Does that necessarily mean they understand how to assess another person’s requirements, understand their circumstances and coach them to a satisfactory outcome? Hardly. This is unfortunately a common, and problematic phenomenon especially related to instagrammers who get lean for a show or a photo shoot, and then start charging for “clean eating” meal plans and so forth. I would avoid anything of the sort like the plague.

So, let’s consider that particular variation of the question resolved. Should you follow dietary advice from a person on the sole basis that they’ve competed in a bodybuilding show, or are otherwise in impressive & athletic shape? Absolutely not.

What about bodybuilding coaches though? As with anything, it’s a mixed bag but I personally know a few who I’m confident are knowledgeable, competent, and usually have a few tricks up their sleeve that are more than merely starving and burning calories.

With that said, I’ll start my list of red flags with the following:

Do they understand that there’s a difference between “contest prep” and appropriate, sustainable eating habits & advice suitable for fat loss and more athletic condition in a normal person?

What might be necessary for and reasonably expected of people in the final stages of contest prep bares little resemblance to what’s reasonable or helpful advice for the rest of us who are looking for sustainable results towards a more athletic condition while actually enjoying the rest of our lives as well. If your coach doesn’t understand this, you’re in for a bad time.

Are they on the gear?

A lot of the times people will present their own physique or that of their clients as evidence to support their views on nutrition and the superiority of their understanding of science. That’s fair enough, but if they’re using steroids then all bets are off. I’d argue that differences in results between enhanced athletes are far more likely to be down to differences in dosage or choice of drugs than due to which carbs they feel are “clean” enough to eat. And if they’re on gear and talking about “discipline” and how people should want to do it the hard way rather than “cheating” with enjoyable foods on an IIFYM style approach, they can fuck right off as far as I’m concerned.

Bottom Line On Nutritional Advice

I’d ignore any advice from anyone that comes with the suggestion that adrenal fatigue or leaky gut are a concern you should have in mind with your dietary choices. I’d ignore any advice of the “calories aren’t equal” or “carbs are not equal” variety as well. Advice of the “this is what I did and it worked for me” nature is next to useless, and for advice of the “this is what everyone should be doing, even though it’s not actually working for me” variety it almost goes without saying.

Hmm what are some other red flags? “Sugar is addictive”, “fruit has too much sugar”, “artificial sweeteners will make you fat”, and any reference to Gary Taubes, Sarah Wilson, David Gillespie, or the various gluten fear mongers.

The best advice is based on the understanding that people have varying requirements, and unique circumstances, tastes, and idiosyncrasies which will determine what is reasonable to expect them to adhere to. Being expected to have the “willpower” or “discipline” to adhere to something that does not suit the individual is entirely unreasonable, and advice that fails to take this into account is inherently poor.

The approach and the selection of foods that best empowers and facilitates consistent adherence in meeting but not exceeding an appropriate provision of total energy from a suitable ratio of macronutrients is always what is best. Whatever approach that may be for each individual.

Whoever you go to for nutritional advice had best understand this, and ideally have both knowledge and experience in successfully coaching others to draw upon when issuing that advice.

Good news, bad news… whatever.

Most of what I post on here is actually good news even though “some people” will get their nose put out of joint by it. Other stuff is more like “real talk; whether we like it or whether we don’t like it, this is how it is so you might as well just face up to it”.

The good news? Starve and burn approaches don’t work.
Yeah I’m saying that’s actually good news. You can starve and burn some weight off, but it’ll only take you so far before starving harder and burning hotter won’t take you a step further and lawd will that weight ever come back and then some when you quit.

But I’m saying that’s good news. It’s good news because those approaches suck balls in hell anyway and now more than ever there’s no reason to subject yourself to that sort of deprivation and punishment KNOWING that it won’t pay off in the long term anyway.

That’s good news and you should be celebrating.

I talk about this enough so real quick: be suitably active and eat enough but not too much. Simple. Lots of people have lost weight and kept it off that way. I’m a trainer though so let’s talk PRODUCTIVE TRAINING with some strenuous activity to make this process more efficient and arrive at what we’ll describe as an ATHLETIC CONDITION instead.

To do that you need to be fueled and what that does NOT mean is going hungry, swearing off all the foods you like and forcing yourself to eat according to someone else’s bizarro ideas about blocks of butter being a healthy snack and fruit not so much… or whatever else. You don’t actually need to go low carb, low carb high fat, keto, paleo, intermittent fasting, 5:2… any of that.

The GOOD news is that on the nutrition side you can do it YOUR way, with YOUR choices of foods, YOUR preferred meal schedule, all put together as best suits YOU in meeting YOUR energy and macronutrient requirements. Ideally also with lots of fruit and veg.

All good news so far.

Now the other stuff.

Everything I just said is true and so long as you keep doing it, you’ll make progress towards a more athletic physical condition. At certain points your fueling requirements change and you need to revise your targets. Generally your requirements increase but you should be working to periods pushing towards your maximum level of usable energy, and then periods that are at a strategic deficit to that maximal amount but are still adequate to facilitate performance at training and maintain lean mass.


This stuff only works so long as you actually keep doing it. Choice of words here is important because while we could choose different phrases that mean more or less the same thing, the choice of wording reflects our attitude and our feelings towards the statement we’re making.

So I could talk about “consistent adherence”, but that sounds a bit like I expect perfection and that any deviation from the plan would mean failure. When you take out all of the lies and the bullshit and the cults and the marketing, there’s not really that much to it other than “effective training and appropriate fueling”, but we need to see this as an ongoing process that we keep working on, and as habits that we keep practicing.

I’ve said a few times that even when you are on the right track, seeing results and feeling good about yourself, the easiest thing in the world is gravitate back towards old habits, behaviours and ideas. Long term success doesn’t require obsessive, precise attention to your diet, and if anything the ultimate goal should be for eating to be as intuitive as possible. However, these are things that take practice, and we need to keep practicing structured and appropriate eating habits, rather than random and erratic ones.

We need to practice consciously rejecting fad diets and other “lose weight quick” schemes and scam products, and we need to treat any intrusive thoughts about skipping meals as exactly what they are.

Strategy, Structure and Inevitable Success.

Real talk though you lot.
I talk a lot here on the blog and elsewhere on social media about how valuable and how crucial a STRATEGY is, and that’s legit. I talk a lot here on the blog and elsewhere on social media about how valuable and how beneficial it is to have STRUCTURED habits, particularly eating habits to ensure that you meet your fueling requirements across the course of the day. That is legit.

Big or small, just about anything you want to achieve in life is going to be a hell of a lot easier with a strategy, and with a structured approach. Those words are practically synonyms in this context.

A strategy! Not just random actions. A strategy and a structured approach rather than an erratic and inconsistent one. Just saying “well here’s what I’m trying to achieve, and here’s what I hope is going to happen… so like… uhh… some things, I guess?” isn’t really a very good bet. It’s pretty much what most people are doing though, isn’t it?

You need a strategy. What’s even more important though is to have an attitude that has you looking for ways to MAKE THINGS WORK rather than reasons why you’re screwed and might as well quit before you even get started. Right? Am I making sense? Of course I am.

Let’s recap though:

  1. You need to be looking for ways to make things work.
  2. You need… actually scratch number 2.
    “a way to make things work” is what a strategy is anyway.

OK, now PAY ATTENTION HERE because I’m about to hit you with your free strategy and all you gotta do is DO IT, right? Just do this stuff I’m about to tell you, exactly the way that I tell you to do it. That’ll work. Right?

NO. Well… yes, but not in the way you might be expecting.

Here’s why “just tell me what to do and what to eat” doesn’t work.

Imagine that I tell you “eat a small meal every 2 hours” or some such nonsense. However, you can’t do that because you have a job where you actually have to do work and can’t just vanish whenever you feel like it to warm something up and cram it into your face… so that’s that & you just can’t do it.

Or I tell you “these foods, not those foods” but you hate all the stuff I’m trying to force you to eat… so that’s that & you just can’t do it.

Or I tell you “fasted training at 5am before breakfast” but you work nights and can’t get up at that time or maybe you are just not a morning person. Morning person? Hell I’m barely a person at all that early in the morning. So anyway, that’s that & you just can’t do it.

Here’s what I’m driving at.

People out there… people who are a little lacking in imagination or empathy are always going to be like “why can’t you just do this? why can’t you just do that?”… and a lot of the time they’re a little judgmental and a little dismissive about it, as well. Well, this may be a revelation for them, but it’s a lot like Blaze Bayley said; “they don’t understand my life, or yours”.

When people start giving you generic sort of advice similar to the examples I gave above, really what they’re doing is suggesting options. They may actually be suggesting non-options, depending on your circumstances… but either way… these are suggestions of options that you might consider as a part of a strategy. However, they’re not “the one and only” much less “the morally superior” way to get it done, the way people tend to infer when they start helpfully letting you know all the things you should be doing.

Let’s wind this up. It’s not about doing what someone else did, or someone else hasn’t actually done but figures you ought to be doing. It’s about you, not them. It’s about your unique personal circumstances, and about taking you from where you’re at now to somewhere closer to where you’d like to end up.

Sounds horribly complicated right? Well fortunately, it really isn’t at all.

One: Start with what you can do.

Look at this as a balance between what you could potentially do, and what you’re actually prepared to do. Again, something inconvenient that you can only force yourself to stick to for a couple days until it just gets annoying is no use to you.

Here’s an example, very simply.
“Well… I could have three meals, six hours apart and a snack half way in between. Breakfast as soon as i get up before work, lunch at noon, and dinner after training in the evening.”

That’s something you could do. Maybe you’re someone who hates eating breakfast as soon as you get up though, and you’d rather train first thing in the morning. That’s fine too. Set the structure that best suits you though, and don’t be in the habit of putting off eating until you’re famished.

Two: Schedule it around what you have to do.

Obviously, right? No point scheduling things when you can’t actually take a break from work or some other time you’re unlikely to actually be able to do it. Take advantage of the most suitable opportunities, like someone who is looking for a way to be successful would do.

Three: Including what you’re likely to do whether you make it part of the plan or not.

Be honest with yourself. If you know you’re going to end up having those two chocolate biscuits at supper time with your cup of tea no matter what, don’t kid yourself. That’s the next thing you work into your strategy.

According to conventional wisdom, this is the stuff you’re supposed to be cutting out. The stuff you’re not supposed to want. The stuff you’re supposed to see as a problem that you need to overcome. Why though? Something is a problem if you make it a problem. We’re here as people who are looking to make things work, not looking for problems to get tripped up on.

Four: Take all that and shape it into something that will get the job done.

You’ve set the structure and the schedule to be the best fit of what you’re able to do, around the other things you have to do, and incorporating some things you were probably going to do anyway, but we’re seeing them as a part of the strategy that will be more conducive to good adherence, rather than making a problem of them unnecessarily.

Now we need to look at the specifics. We have a target range for an appropriate total energy intake that we need to work to, we need to meet an adequate amount of protein, our minimum recommended 2 pieces of fruit, 5 serves of vegetables, and I recommend 30 grams of nuts as well assuming you like nuts. Choose the foods you enjoy the most, in amounts to meet those requirements, at the times of the day that best suit your schedule.

That’s what flexible dieting is. It’s quite a simple concept, and there’s no good reason why it should be done any other way. Why would there be? To prove something to other people who want to see you doing it the hard way and not getting anywhere? Fuck those people if they’re not happy to see you happier and making progress towards your goals.

The Evolution Of IIFYM

Update: This is something I originally published on the formerly ‘official blog’ quite a while back, covering the Evolution Of IIFYM approaches, through Flexible Dieting and beyond. As to the “beyond” part… I’d like to think I’m one of, if not THE leading guy who has taken these approaches beyond the primitive “any amount that’s in deficit will result in fat loss, so just keep restricting further and further into deficit forever” applications.

I’ll include some graphics and links to my more recent articles expanding upon some of these points, and you’ll see just how far the concept has evolved since.


If. It. Fits. Your. Macros.

You all know the back story already, I presume?

It all started on body building forums, where questions would be asked to the effect of for example “I’m bored of eating such n such, is it ok if I eat such n such instead while trying to lose fat and gain muscle?”. And the answer would be that it was fine, so long as total energy intake was still appropriate and macronutrient ratios were not negatively impacted. In other words, whatever you have a hankering for is fine, “if it fits your macros”.

They eventually changed it to “flexible dieting” because idiots would make strawman style “so you’re saying vitamins and minerals aren’t important? just macros?” arguments and so forth.

Obviously you do need to meet ALL of your requirements. However, it is neither necessary nor helpful to start obsessing over tracking and basing your food choices on micronutrient content. If you get a good mix of fruit, veg and other choices in accordance with the official Healthy Eating Guidelines you’re unlikely to be deficient in anything.

I would only very occasionally see anyone ridiculous enough to  suggest that we should be focused upon tracking micronutrients per se, but it was a common argument of a “false dichotomy” nature with the inference that if one pays attention to their energy and macronutrient intake, they must by definition also be going out of their way to neglect their micronutrient requirements. Clearly, a preposterous argument… although we’ll come back to this point briefly in the next installment.

So, certainly it is still important to ensure appropriate micronutrient provision in accordance with the Healthy Eating Guidelines, as discussed already. Strictly speaking though, for “results from training” including weight loss, total energy and macronutrient ratios are what makes the difference. Not “clean eating” or whatever arbitrary labels you want to slap on to individual food choices that mean they’re “bad” or “good” for weight loss, muscle gain or health in general.

For my own system I changed it one step further, from “flexible dieting” to “Flexible Fueling” because my people aren’t on a damn diet. We are fueling UP for best results and we know that means we have minimum requirements that we need to exceed… rather than trying to restrict to low levels of energy. I really wanted to emphasise the rejection of that “dieting” mentality, because what we do is the opposite.

Now you can do this macronutrient thing by percentage of total energy or by the gram. Most people seem to talk about percentages of total energy and that’s how I used to do it too, but as activity level and level of performance goes up, so too does total energy requirement. As this total energy requirement goes up, it becomes both unrealistic and unnecessary to expect a large percentage of this to come from protein.

As a side note at this point, to talk only about macronutrient percentages without also establishing an appropriate or optimal total energy intake is entirely pointless, as well.

For this reason… well, I decide on a case by case basis but increasingly I am basing my recommendations on a “by the gram” basis for what is an adequate protein provision, although my prediction of what might be optimal may be a higher target based on percentage of total energy. Again… experience and intuition starts to come into this and I wouldn’t say there is a hard rule on how best to interpret the numbers and work them into practical targets in every individual case.

Now here’s the trick though.

It does come down to calories, for the most part. But failing to see progress, fat loss or weight loss does not automatically translate to “not in calorific deficit” aka “still eating too much”.

People with a poor understanding still jump to the seemingly obvious “whatever you’re eating now, slash 500 calories as you’re not in deficit” line whenever someone reports a plateau or lack of progress. That isn’t “IIFYM” though, it is just “calorie counting” and energy restriction, and it is no better than any other form of crash dieting.

What IIFYM should mean and what Flexible Fueling certainly does mean is running the numbers to determine what this particular individual’s requirements are in total energy, protein, fats and carbs respectively to ensure results from training. What should be adequate, and what should be optimal. Cutting below what the maths and good sense tells us is “adequate” is quite literally “less than adequate” and therefore not conducive to ongoing results.

A little more on maintenance calories real quick.

cico maintenance
Is your lack of progress because your intake is too high to allow fat loss, or too low to facilitate improved performance and condition? Click the graphic for the full article that goes with it.

A lot of people are under the impression that if for example you are currently maintaining weight and not really seeing any changes in body composition on 2500 calories per day, increasing intake beyond 2500 would result in fat gain due to being “in excess of maintenance calories”.

However, this may not be correct.

If 2500 calories per day is a sub-optimal energy provision relative to your needs, increasing towards the optimal amount would mean more energy being made available and being utilised to perform, recover and adapt to training. This should not result in weight gain (unless that was your aim) and should in fact result in more energy being drawn from fat stores to fuel non exercise activity. It is for this reason that it is sometimes possible to actually lose weight after increasing energy intake.

Again, Calories In / Calories out is the rule… but it is about the most appropriate, most optimal energy intake relative to your needs, and not about just slashing calories ever lower to starve weight off.

Beyond Calories In / Calories Out.

Don’t get me wrong. CI/CO is a valid rule and no one with a shred of sense should really dispute this. However, the way this rule is often applied in real life leaves a lot to be desired. I would suggest more people move away from the “calorific deficit” model in favour of pushing upper, maximum usable calorie targets for optimal performance, recovery and results from training.

To facilitate improvements in performance at training requires MORE fuel, not less. To recover from more intense, more productive and more effective training sessions requires MORE fuel, not less. To build lean mass and change your body composition requires MORE fuel and in particular, adequate provision of protein. Not less. More.

Now, this is something to be built up to strategically as often referred to as “Reverse Dieting” elsewhere. What people fear when you start talking about increasing towards maximum usable intake is something to the tune of “but don’t I need to be in deficit to lose fat?”, and the answer is… technically yes, but let’s think about it a little differently.

Assuming you have any fat whatsover to lose. It becomes complicated to explain because every situation is different and there will be a time to dial in a more significant but still strategic deficit after having established and maintained maximum usable intake for a suitable duration of time. In this case we’d still be looking at a reasonably high energy intake, suitable for performance and recovery, but it will be somewhat less than we’ve gotten used to, encouraging the body to draw even more from fat stores to make up the difference. Certainly our targets at this stage would still be higher than many other people would be restricting to in similar circumstances with the other approach.

But that all comes later. Assuming we’re still in the “Reverse Dieting” stage though, we are building up towards the maximum, most optimal level of energy we can put to good use in fueling our lifestyle, performing at training, recovering, and adapting with creation and maintenance of lean mass at the expense of body fat. Clearly, however high this amount is, by definition it is still less than the amount it would take to fail to see improvement in condition and reduction in body fat at that level of activity.

Only in surplus, or excessive total energy intake would we fail to lose body fat. Maximum usable intake is by definition not “excessive”, as excessive would mean “more than we have a use for”. So while technically we are in deficit of what would be required to fail to see improvements in body composition, our focus is not on “being in deficit” which usually translates loosely to “under fueled and trying to force the body to burn fat to compensate”.

Interrupted Energy Restriction Strategies.

There are always various ways you could approach working towards and establishing the levels of fueling that best suit your needs and facilitate the best and most sustainable improvements in athletic performance and condition.

interrupted energy restriction strategy

This graphic represents the latest variation upon the Flexible Fueling approach, and you can read more about it on my blogspot, filed under Interrupted Energy Restriction Strategy.

12 Week Challenges: Failure By Design

Twelve week body transformation challenges, clean eating challenges, whatever other label they put on a restrictive crash diet to make it seem like a good idea. These things are very popular and they’re a good marketing angle for us business people. For you the consumer though… this is a case of FAILURE BY DESIGN.

By the very nature of what it is, we’re talking about temporary measures for a temporary result, at best. Do this for twelve weeks… then stop doing it again.

When you stop doing it, you go back to your previous condition. And you WILL stop doing it, because it is going to SUCK. That’s the “challenge” part. Restrict to 4 or 6 or 800 or 1000 calories per day less than you actually require… who knows how many less exactly, as it’s a one size fits all prescription (usually 1200) that doesn’t take your height, age, other physical stats and dieting history into account.

Banishing any foods you find convenient, enjoyable or otherwise appealing is a challenge that is going SUCK, too. Let’s not forget about that part.

Worse than merely “going back to your previous condition” when you go off the challenge… we KNOW that restriction of energy intake changes rate of metabolism detrimentally. This is why you invariably end up heavier than you started, each time you come off a diet. Your regular habits might be for example providing 300 calories a day more than you can put to use… after training your body to run on less fuel, that same amount might now effectively be 400 calories more than you can put to use. I posted a link to the science on this during the week, and this is why the cycle of dieting has failure built in.

So… failure is ensured with these things. Because in the first place the energy provision is not adequate to your physical needs, the restriction of food choices is not suitable to your human, psychological needs… and even if you somehow do gut it out for 12 weeks… in the end this is only detrimental to your chances of achieving and maintaining your goal body condition long term.

Calories are what counts. But not the way you’ve been told.

Make no mistake about this. Calories matter.

An excessive energy intake (aka too many calories, more than you have a use for) results in accumulating more body fat, because your body just does not know what else it should do with it. The answer however is not to recklessly slash calorie targets to the lowest amount you can scrape through the day on. There is no “magic number” of calories that everyone should restrict to for weight loss purposes.

Rather, each person will have a suitable range of energy that will be suitable for them to maintain a healthy goal weight range and fuel their active lifestyle. For most people it will be enough to be within this suitable range “most of the time” and indulging a little extra on occasion will all average out over the longer term. People with more ambitious goals may be enthusiastic enough to dial in tighter energy and macronutritient targets and hit them more consistently for optimal results from training. Again though, their energy requirements will be higher than most people’s and so there will be room in the plan for some indulgence all the same.

Being in whatever your goal shape is, whether that is a more ambitious goal of more athletic condition, or just a more average, every day “healthy and not over weight” condition… this comes from what you do habitually, long term. Not from what you challenge yourself to do for brief periods here and there.

Come to think of it, 12 weeks is not so brief. It is close enough to a quarter of a year. If you are going to 12 weeks of effort into anything, make it something that you will get a long term, positive result from and not a temporary one at best.

All that being said, I also offer a 12 week program and from time to time I do bill it as a “challenge” of sorts. The challenge however is not to go hungry and swear off all of your favourite foods. The challenge is, firstly, to disregard all of the false ideas about restriction of calories and “bad foods” that we’re constantly bombarded with from unscrupulous (or just misguided) sources.

The real challenge is more of a “get your shit together and get organised” challenge, to establish the habits that will ultimately lead to achieving and actually exceeding your goals in terms of health and body condition. There is no easier answer than this: if you care about being in athletic condition, training simply needs to become a permanent fixture in your daily routine.

The challenge is to establish the habit of regular training and other healthy, enjoyable activities, and to practice meeting either a simple target range of total energy intake, or more precise targets if you are more ambitious.

Contrary to what most people have been tricked into believing, for people with a more active lifestyle participating in training with the goal of a stronger, leaner, more athletic body condition… the real challenge is often in eating enough food to provide the energy, protein and other resources required to perform, recover, and build that strong, lean body as an adaptation to training.

How could you expect to facilitate that with just 1200 calories a day?

Our goal should be good health, strength, happiness and a guilt free relationship with food. For life. Not “starving some weight off temporarily” which is all most of these 12 week challenges are selling.

You should rage quit fad diets.

People come to me for advice on all sorts of matters, from time to time. Really, I’m pretty good for advice on how to get into shape, via effective training and appropriate fueling. I used to be able to talk music and music theory with the best of them too, but I’m probably a bit rusty at that by now. And I apparently had a natural aptitude for security work although uhh… they don’t let me do security work any more, for some reason. Let’s not get into it.

But anyway… there’s a quite a few things I’m good for but it’s sometimes a little amusing to me that people come to me for advice on anything else, other than those things in particular. I think people realise though, when you ask me something you’re probably going to get a unique response and a different perspective to the same old same old you’re hearing from everyone else.

So from time to time someone will ask me what they should do because they’re really, particularly unhappy in their job. There might be any number of reasons and contributing factors, and once I’ve heard them all I usually give the same suggestion: rage quit.

Like I said, not the advice you’re going to hear everywhere else. I think this is a generational thing, and people in my age bracket and especially people older than that are likely to give you something to the tune of “as long as they keep paying you, suck it up. Grin and bear it. A job is a job”.

I say to hell with that. I say, if it is that bad that you’re really upset, depressed or your mental health is otherwise being effected… just straight up rage quit. Lose your shit and storm out. Throw some furniture across the room on the way, maybe.

Crazy right? Well… maybe. But there is always a method to my madness and usually this elicits the appropriate response to the effect of “well, that’s a bit extreme. I don’t think I quite need to go that far just yet”. Good then.

Now we have some perspective, we can take a step back and assess the situation. If you’re really that unhappy, the situation needs to change before it really does get to that “rage quit” stage. So if you have a couple of days sick leave up your sleeve, take them now, go see the doctor to talk about your stress levels, and start putting together an exit strategy. Where would you rather be, what do you need to do to prepare for that, and what sort of time frame is going to be required?

Lock all of that in and make it happen, because you deserve it.

Now I’m going to come back to talking about diets in a little bit but let’s talk about jobs some more first. Sometimes you take a job just because you need one right now, and this one is on offer. You take it and try make the best of it, but you’re not emotionally invested in it. In which case, if it isn’t working out and there’s something better you can get into… what are you waiting for?

Other times though… a job is about more than just the pay rate. You might have been recruited, or even poached from your previous job, and you started the new one on the promise of career advancement, on the job training, the opportunity to contribute and to have those contributions appreciated, and so on. I don’t think people are really inherently lazy. People do want to work hard, but they want to work hard on something meaningful, and have their efforts be recognised and rewarded. Even if it’s a job that “anyone could do”, people want to take pride and satisfaction in doing it well.

And sometimes… even though you’ve been promised the opportunity to do all of these things, you find out too late that it was all bullshit. That situation can really suck the self esteem and the self worth right out of a person, the same as any other toxic relationship or toxic environment would. And again… so often the message or the advice we get is to just keep working really hard even though you’re not getting anything out of it. I mean, sure… you get paid. But all of those other things are important too. Pride, recognition and progression are all a part of the package that we deserve for working hard… on anything.

And depending on who you ask, especially if you’re a younger person you might get told that all of those expectations make you “entitled”, or something. You might get told “well you didn’t work hard enough then” by people who who are jerks or who still think we live in a meritocracy and that the world is a fair place, even though you actually did work very hard indeed to begin with until you realised it was getting you nowhere.

Now then. Fad diets are very similar, don’t you think?

You start a fad diet on the promise that is going to solve all of your problems, take you where you want to go in terms of health, weight, body condition and so on. And so often it is a lot like that dream job offer that turns into a toxic, dead end, soul sucking experience. It just doesn’t deliver. And just like that job, you get pissed off because you did everything you were supposed to do, you weren’t lazy, you were ready to work hard… and you didn’t get what you were promised. Didn’t get what you deserved. None of the satisfaction, none of the progress, none of the recognition. Nothing but a bunch of lies, bullshit and disappointment.

If not diets, then what?

Honestly, people should be as pissed off about getting tricked into fad diets as they would about getting lured into a toxic work environment with a bunch of false promises. Most of the diets and for that matter exercise programs out there aren’t put together by people who know what they’re talking about. They’re put together by marketers who know how to manipulate people into buying things, or they’re put out by social media type people who are supposed to be “inspirational” or something but are really just making things up that have no basis in reality.

Fad diets are usually based on some or all of the following assumptions:

  • You need to restrict to a very low amount of calories, or of carbohydrates in particular.
  • Certain foods automatically make you fat no matter what, and you need to avoid them at all times.
  • Certain foods automatically make you lean, and you should only eat those foods whether you like them or not.
  • Eating a certain way proves that you’re a good person, and for being a good person you’ll be rewarded with a healthy, attractive figure.

All of those ideas are not merely incorrect, but approaches based on them are neither sustainable nor conducive to achieving any sort of permanent result in weight loss or body condition. Rather, the more you persist with them the less likely success is.

People should rage quit all of these fad diets and other restrictive approaches to dieting as well. They should get irate, and say “fuck that bullshit, I’m not doing it anymore”. What to do instead though? Well. You could say “so I’ll be a little fat. Who cares as long as I’m happy?” and I’d support you on that. It is far from your only option, however.

If being in shape is important to you, do what people who are in shape are doing. People in shape aren’t on diets. Usually they’re not doing “calorie burning” mass marketed exercise programs either. They’re doing some effective form of training that they enjoy, and they’ve learned how to meet their energy and nutrient requirements with choices that suit them.

“Choices that suit them” is the key here.

To stay in shape requires sustainable habits. Not restriction of energy or choices. Anything that’s a struggle, anything that is not convenient… people seem to think that is how you “earn” results. It isn’t.

Regardless of the choices of foods, at closer to goal weight in more athletic condition, your body requires a certain amount of total energy in order to fuel your lifestyle and to perform, recover, and adapt to training with the maintenance of more lean mass at the expense of fat stores. Of that required total energy range, there’ll a certain made up from each of the macronutrient groups and there’ll be a range of what will be adequate to what should be optimal.

If you determine what those requirements are, plan to meet them with whatever choice of foods is most appealing to you, and then practice doing this as consistently as possible until it becomes automatic, you WILL achieve your goal condition in due course and you will never consider a restrictive fad or crash diet again.

I happen to have a pretty awesome system for determining these requirements and a great training program to go along with it. You can check that out via the Online Coaching page on this site for more information.

Exceed your minimum requirements, do not restrict below them.

For benefit of the new people or any who might have missed it the 8mililon times I talked about this already.

My philosophy is that the best approach is to be working to a set of targets that represent your MINIMUM energy and macronutrient requirements, with the intention of EXCEEDING those minimum targets.

Now what most people do is an arbitrary low calorie target which is actually far short of their minimum requirement, but they treat it as a maximum limit. What these people are doing, unfortunately, is ensuring a LACK of results by depriving their bodies of the energy and other resources that they REQUIRE not merely to fuel exercise and daily activity, but chiefly to RECOVER and ADAPT to training.

The purpose of training should not be merely to “burn calories”. The purpose is to adapt favourably to training with the creation of a stronger, fitter, more durable version of “you”. Simply put: you can’t build something out of nothing. How can you expect to recover & adapt to training with improved performance and improved condition without providing enough of the necessary resources via delicious food?

You just can’t.

So we should work on the principle of determining and then exceeding our minimum requirements. For most people it is entirely sufficient to simply be “in the ballpark” somewhere between what is “adequate” (aka minimum requirement) and what is “optimal” (aka maximum usable energy intake), and it is not necessary to fine tune a plan down to the last gram, last calorie, or last percentage point.

Working to a plan to meet and exceed your minimum requirements ensures success. It is not about going hungry, having willpower and resisting the temptation of enjoyable and indulgent treats once in a while. It is simply about providing the fuel, the energy and nutritional resources that your body requires, and training it to put as much of those resources as possible into the muscles where you want them to go, while drawing a little more on any fat stores to fuel less intense, non-exercise activity.

SURELY this makes 1000% more sense than assuming that a strong, healthy and athletic body comes via the imagined moral virtue or strength of character it would take to only “eat clean” at all times? Surely it makes 10000% more sense than thinking you can starve your body into strong, healthy and athletic shape via low calorie dieting?

For the vast majority of us, we need to be in the right ball park between adequate and optimal intake as often as possible. A little under or a little over on the odd occasion will not make a lick of difference, but habitually, on average, by default, we should have eating habits that are conducive to a “not inappropriate” total daily intake.

But I need to lose weight, first.

If your goal involves losing a small or even a more significant amount of weight, the first thing you need is an approach that is sustainable. It needs to actually be suitable to supporting your goal condition, and it needs to be something you can do habitually without stress or difficulty. Attempting any restrictive form of diet, whether restriction to a low calorie target or restriction of food choices is unworkable as you simply can’t expect to stick to it for more than… who knows? A few days, or a few weeks at a time?

By the way, while we’re talking about it: Failing to adhere to a restrictive diet is not an indication of poor character, weak mindedness, lack of discipline and so on. It is a physiological impossibility. Your body will DEMAND the energy that it has been deprived of, before too long. When that happens, you end up over eating and / or quitting the diet. But that is an inevitable outcome due to an unworkable approach. It is not a personal failing that other people would have been able to tough out.

No one succeeds on those approaches, ever. No one ever has, and no one ever will.

Even if you could stick to it, it would not be conducive to your goal. Not a lot of people seem to understand this, but while “calories in / calories out” is still the basis of any good strategy for long term success, when your “calories in” are too low and especially when your “calories out” is also too high, your body has no choice but to prioritise the conservation of energy and the preservation of fat stores. Think about that for a minute and consider how horrendously misguided all of these “1200 calories and 3 hours of cardio” type weight loss plans really are.

Here’s how I would probably build your plan if you came to me for help.

This varies depending on the circumstances but generally speaking, something like this.

For a person who’s about your height, your age, your sex and is getting started with a little activity, about how much total energy would they require to maintain a relatively lean, normal weight range?
For overweight people, this might just be “closer to” a normal weight range.
Also note that for athletic people, what is “normal” goes out the window anyway as we’re packing on more muscle and building stronger bones, so we’re more concerned with “strong and healthy condition” than with “normal weight” per se. But still, we need to start somewhere, and closer to this “historically normal” weight range is where we base our initial calculations.

That’s probably our MINIMUM requirement, to get started with.
Based on your height, age, a suitable goal weight range and what’s required to fuel a little activity.

“A little activity” is not what we’re doing though, so as we progress with training, we’ll need to increase further from this initial minimum requirement to a new minimum that is more representative of what you require not just to fuel some activity, but to perform, recover and adapt optimally to training.

So we start out conservatively but still significantly higher than the sorts of numbers people usually associate with “weight loss”, “dieting” or “healthy eating”, and then we strategically increase further towards what should be optimal intake for total energy and macronutrients.

Take all of the emotion out of it and just consider on purely logical grounds. Isn’t this exactly how you’d expect to produce results from training? Rather than by going hungry and abstaining from all of your favourite foods?

Jump to the Online Coaching page for video testimonials about how well this approach works out for my people.

The danger of complacency.

Getting started might be the second hardest thing on Earth. The actual hardest would be getting started all over again when you’ve been half way there, forgot where you were going and ended up back where you started from.

Unfortunately, that’s the EASIEST thing in the world to happen.

Especially if to begin with you weren’t so happy, felt frustrated, stagnant, whatever else. Putting a strategy in place to change all of that seems like an enormous task when you have so far to go, and it will take so long, and you’re a little low on self belief that you’ll back to stay on track.

Once people do get started though, the perspective soon changes. Rather than being overwelmed by how far you have to go, you’re proud of how far you have already come. Rather than being focussed negatively on not being in some “ideal” body condition, you’re more aware and more appreciative of what your body can do now, and what it is becoming as the results of training become more apparant. Seeing progress, you lose self doubt and build self beleif.

At this point, perhaps for the first time in quite a while, you feel pretty damn good. Confident, empowered, in control and moving forward in life. At least in regard to training and body condition, but hopefully with some of that sense of confidence and empowerment spilling over into other areas of life as well. The easist thing in the world at this point is to become complacent and to gravitate back towards your old habits, your old life, and therefore your old condition. And when this happens, unfortunately it will not be until you are right back where you started from before you realise and remember just how much that is not where you want to be any more.

Getting started all over again the second time as we mentioned at the start of the article, is probably the only thing harder than getting started in the first place.

For this reason, it is impertitive that we are ever mindful to be diligent and not allow ourselves to become complacent. Not to develop some unhealthy obsession with the pursuit of an unrealistic ideal, but simply to keep pushing forward consistently at our own pace, and to celebrate every step in the right direction.

We should live in the present and enjoy the moment, but have one eye on the future while being conscious of learning from the past.

Set a schedule and make yourself a priority.

Something I’ve talked about recently is that it is not terribly helpful to see training as an “all or nothing, do or die, make or break” proposition 100% of the time.

There WILL be times when life gets in the way and you have to put it on the backburner. Maybe you get sick, or your schedule just gets complicated, or whatever. Having a more realistic attitude about this will help you to stay enthusiastic about getting back into it at full steam and do better than ever as soon as you are able, rather than feeling beaten and losing motivation.

That being said, we do need to make training a priority if we want to be successful. Not necessarily your TOP priority, but a priority all the same. Your career, studies, or taking care of your family might be your TOP priority, but training needs to be ALSO a priority. Training and being on top of your nutritional requirements to facilitate good progress and good health, too.

So you need to schedule training in around those other priorities, and schedule your meals and snacks in there as best suits you as well. Once that is scheduled in, make sure it GETS DONE. Treat it as a priority and if that means politely explaining to someone “nope because I have to go train” then start practicing saying it, now!

If anything, you should see training and eating not as competing with your other priorities in life, but as complementing them. Are you going to perform better at work or study if you’ve had enough to eat and you are full of energy and endorphins? Of course you are.

The thing to emphasise here is scheduling. Once something is scheduled, you have decided that you fully intend to make it happen. It is not a “we’ll see how things go” prospect, or something that’s optional if someone distracts you or asks for a favour or something.

Having a schedule means that you are organised and efficient. I train at this time, work from this time to this time, take a break to eat at this time. Boom, boom, BOOM I GET SHIT DONE. When you have a schedule, not only does shit get done but other people learn when they need to come to you when they need you as well, and they learn when you’re not available too.

There is nothing selfish or unreasonable about this.

What we’re talking about is being organised to get everything done that needs to be done, including being available to help other people out as well, but not at the expense of your own needs and your own well being.

We have many facets to our lives and various priorities. It is natural that we want to feel like we are doing all of them well, and not letting ourselves or other people down. The best way to ensure this is simply to be well organised, and to see all of these priorities as related and complementary, rather than competing with one another.